Reaching the Unreachable: Barriers of the Poorest to Accessing NGO Healthcare Services in Bangladesh|
Ahmed, Nizam U.; Alam, Mohammed M.; Sultana, Fadia; Sayeed, Shahana N.; Pressman, Aliza M. & Powers, Mary Beth
The NGO Service Delivery Program (NSDP), a USAID-funded programme, is the largest NGO programme in Bangladesh. Its strategic flagship activity is the essential services package through which healthcare services are administered by NGOs in Bangladesh. The overall goal of the NSDP is to increase access to essential healthcare services by communities, especially the poor. Recognizing that the poorest in the community often have no access to essential healthcare services due to various barriers, a study was conducted to identify what the real barriers to access by the poor are. This included investigations to further understand the perceptions of the poor of real or imagined barriers to accessing healthcare; ways for healthcare centres to maximize services to the poor; how healthcare providers can maximize service-use; inter-personal communication between healthcare providers and those seeking healthcare among the poor; and ways to improve the capacity of service providers to reach the poorest segment of the community. The study, carried out in two phases, included 24 static and satellite clinics within the catchment areas of eight NGOs under the NSDP in Bangladesh, during June-September 2003. Participatory urban and rural appraisal techniques, focus-group discussions, and in-depth interviews were employed as research methods in the study. The target populations in the study included males and females, service-users and non-users, and special groups, such as fishermen, sex workers, potters, Bedes (river gypsies), and lower-caste people—all combined representing a heterogeneous community. The following four major categories of barriers emerged as roadblocks to accessing quality healthcare for the poor: (a) low income to be able to afford healthcare, (b) lack of awareness of the kind of healthcare services available, (c) deficiencies and inconsistencies in the quality of services, and (d) lack of close proximity to the healthcare facility. Those interviewed perceived their access problems to be: (a) a limited range of NGO services available as they felt what are available do not meet their demands; (b) a high service-charge for the healthcare services they sought; (c) higher prices of drugs at the facility compared to the market place; (d) a belief that the NGO clinics are primarily to serve the rich people, (e) lack of experienced doctors at the centres; and (f) the perception that the facility and its services were more oriented to women and children, but not to males. Others responded that they should be allowed to get treatment with credit and, if needed, payment should be waived for some due to their poverty level. While the results of the study revealed many perceptions of barriers to healthcare services by the poor, the feedback provided by the study indicates how important it is to learn from the poorest segment of society. This will assist healthcare providers and the healthcare system itself to become more sensitized to the needs and problems faced by this segment of the society and to make recommendations to remove barriers and improvement of access. Treatment with credit and waived payment for the poorest were also recommended as affordable alternative private healthcare services for the poor.
Health services; Healthcare; Poor; Perceptions; Bangladesh